Like his game, “The Stanley Parable,” Davey Wreden is more interested in starting conversations than answering questions.
An Indie Game Series, hosted by the English Undergraduate Organization at Ohio State, is hosting four events where participants play a game and then discuss it. Thursday’s event was the first in the series, which brought “The Stanley Parable.” The game was initially released as a modification of “Half-Life 2” in 2011 and remade as a stand-alone title in 2013.
About 20 participants gathered in a Hopkins Hall computer lab to play the game, a first-person adventure which features branching paths like a choose-your-own-adventure book. After about an hour of gameplay, Wreden, the game’s writer, answered questions via a Skype call.
Indie games are made by independent developers and sometimes self-published in the case of “The Stanley Parable.” The freedom has allowed developers to experiment with convention, Wreden said.
“The way these games change the landscape of gaming in general is going to be so radically different than anything that’s come before it,” Wreden said. “We’re developing a very different language and taxonomy for their development.”
Wreden said some game critics have called “The Stanley Parable” a playable piece of games criticism, due to its subversion of gaming tropes. For instance, the player is allowed to disobey the commands of the game’s narrator.
Wreden did not completely agree with the classification.
“The more interesting parts of the game for me are those which have grown beyond that, and have something hopefully universal about them which can be understood by even those who don’t play games,” Wreden said.
Wreden said it was not up to him to interpret the game, but up to its players.
“There’s nothing I could say that could be more interesting than the words you could put on it yourself,” Wreden said. “That’s the whole fun of it.”
Still, he did address the conflicting themes in different parts of the game, attributing it to the way people change their perspectives over time.
“Having to go from moment to moment is more meaningful to me,” Wreden said. “I just want to give validity to all of those moments.”
This idea came full circle when Wreden remade the game.
“I think the first game is more cynical, and it reflects me being more pessimistic about finding people and feeling trapped. I wanted to push it more in the direction as time went on of saying that there is a world to connect to outside of this one. I wanted it to be about freedom. That’s more important to me (now).”
Wreden began formulating the game as a film studies student at the University of Southern California.
“I wish I could be more of an advocate for the direct impact the academic system had on me, but I was studying film and just making games in my spare time,” Wreden said.
He called the development of ideas for the game a “brute force” process.
“A lot of chunks of this game were just me sitting there all day, writing thousands of ideas, over and over and over,” Wreden said. “Finally, we got to something that might not be awful.”
Some of his muses he said are Charlie Kaufman, Alison Bechde and Brendon Chung.
“I will imagine some theoretical person who doesn’t actually exist but is the combination of every creative or artistic person that I admire, and does all of the things that I think are awesome that other people do that I don’t feel capable of,” Wreden said. “I’ll try to do what that person would do.”
Although his game is derived from, and even features scenes from other games, such as “Minecraft” and “Portal,” Wreden thought the influences were constructive in getting the idea done.
“There’s no one who’s being honest with themselves who can tell you ‘my game wasn’t influenced by any other media’,” Wreden said. “If you’re actually being genuine through your work, and it’s really inspired by movies or literature, then go make it. That’s more time that you’re spending just making something rather than worrying if it’s the right thing to make.”
The series was organized by EUGO as well as graduate students in the OSU English department, and was designed as a way to pull people at all levels of the university together.
The next three games in the series are “Gone Home,” “Device 6” and “Year Walk.” Attending those events requires an RSVP accessible from EUGO’s website.
Chase Ledin, president of EUGO, said the goal was to have participants talk about what games mean to them as a player and a person.
“It’s really a broad dialogue about how that rhetoric is built and how people build their lives on video games,” said Ledin, a fourth-year in English and sexuality studies.
Andrew Smart, a graduate teaching associate in the department of English, helped develop the series and contacted the developers of each game.
Smart said the series is a step towards a broader inclusion of video game studies in the English department at OSU.
“Long ago there were people just reading great classics of literature, but over time we’ve expanded into film and comics, and I think video games are just an expansion waiting to happen,” Smart said.
Smart said it isn’t confirmed whether game developers will be present for subsequent games in the series.
The series is sponsored by the Popular Culture Studies Program and the Department of English at OSU. The games were either donated in the case of “The Stanley Parable” or purchased at an academic discount.
Tyler Clementi, a third-year in English, said he enjoyed Wreden’s enthusiasm to answer questions.
“(Wreden) took questions and branched out with them into cool areas,” Clementi said. “He answered stuff I wanted to know but didn’t ask.”
Eric Tharnish, a second-year in English, was inspired by Wreden to think critically about games in new ways.
“(Wreden) brought up alternative questions,” Tharnish said. “I feel that when reviewers play through a game, they don’t do it to find meaning or answers. He told gamers to step it up as participants, and ask ‘Do we understand every game?’”
Wreden closed with his own parable, a lesson for students.
“I went to film school to learn that I didn’t want to make films,” Wreden said. “If you can figure out everything you don’t want to do, then doing what you want to do is easy.”